Financial Review 23rd September 2016

Pick your moment to avoid hanging on the HMRC’s telephone
There’s nothing more frustrating than being told ‘your call is important’ but that the organisation is ‘very busy’ at the time you’ve chosen to call. HMRC and BT are high on the list of those that attract most criticism, but now research has highlighted the best and worst times to contact HMRC.

Despite improvements, taxpayers still wait up to 35 minutes to get through, with many giving up or being told to try again as the service is overloaded. The best time to call is mornings between 8.30 and 9.30, or at lunchtime from noon to 12.30. At these times taxpayers wait an average of under five minutes to be put through to an assistant. The worst time was 4.30 to 5pm. HMRC uses recorded messages to turn away callers at peak times or direct them to online information.

Consumer spending dipped in August
Clothing and shoe sales fell in August as high street spending declined, but online retail business remained robust. Consumer spending fell 1.4% month-on-month, but it is volatile, having risen in June after falling in May. Clothing and footwear sales were hit hardest, dropping 2.6% in August. High street retailers suffered the biggest drop in spending, down 2.8% compared with the same period last year. This was offset by online sales increasing 3.2%. The survey was based on charges to Visa credit and debit cards, which account for a third of consumer spending.

One bright spot was a big rise in sales for hotels and restaurants, believed to reflect an increase in people holidaying at home, due to economic concerns and the impact the weakening of sterling had on the cost of eurozone holidays.

Small firms and the self-employed lead UK Job creation
The employment boom since 2010 has been driven by small companies. These accounted for almost 80% of the rise in private sector jobs, a report claims. Employment has risen by 2.5 million since 2010 with small companies responsible for 1.9m new jobs. The growth has been particularly strong among the self-employed, with an extra 900,000 one-person businesses set up in the past five years.

Small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) are now expected to add a further 200,000 jobs by 2020, generating an extra £16 billion for the economy. Factors driving growth in a particular area include workforce skills, property costs and broadband speed.

Will pools seller ‘spend, spend, spend’?
It might be lottery winners that make headlines today, but the Football Pools business is being sold for £97 million to a group of gambling industry investors by its current owner, Sportech.

The Pools business began 93 years ago and was once the main way to gamble on football. It is still played by about 300,000 people, although at their height 10m players took part. Last year the business had sales of £33.8m and profits of £15.2m. Sportech combined the pools brands by buying Littlewoods Gaming in 2000, Zetters in 2002 and Vernons in 2007. Those doing the Pools seek to pick up to 12 football matches they predict will finish in a draw. The most famous winner was Viv Nicholson who won £152,319 in 1961, the equivalent of £3.1m today, and vowed to “spend, spend, spend” her winnings.

Policyholders are the whipping boys for car crash ‘injury’ claims
The UK’s compensation culture for whiplash claims is adding around £93 a year to motor insurance premiums. In 2015, 80% of the car insurance claims Aviva dealt with involved whiplash, compared with just 3% in France. The Government has pledged to end the whiplash claims culture, but despite promises from the previous Chancellor plans are still sitting on the shelf.

Aviva says that since 2000 motoring accidents have fallen by 40%, but injury claims have surged by 89%. Of a typical car insurance premium, almost half goes to cover personal injury claims, followed by marketing costs and the Government-imposed insurance premium tax.

BCC slashes UK economic growth forecast
The British Chambers of Commerce have dramatically reduced their economic growth forecast for 2017 to just 1%, citing the reason as post-referendum uncertainty. This was their first forecast since the June vote and it represents a dramatic reduction in fortunes, the previous forecast having been for 2.3% growth. This would be the worst performance since 2009, when the economy was emerging slowly from the recession.

Recent economic indicators suggest activity has rebounded from an initial post-referendum dive, but the BCC’s gloomy outlook shows that businesses remain nervous about protracted negotiations to leave the EU and about potential trade deals.

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